Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin made the claim as he insisted the vital development must be considered a key priority by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Transport Minister Shane Ross.
Speaking to the, Mr Martin said it is “shocking” and “crazy” that the motorway between two of Ireland’s leading cities has been “moth-balled” — claiming Mr Varadkar was partially responsible for this while Transport Minister between 2011 and 2014.
Hitting out at the delays in the development, the Cork South Central TD said the motorway is essential to ensuring the west of Ireland becomes as attractive to the east coast for companies basing themselves in this country.
“The Cork to Limerick motorway is an absolute imperative and, in order to create a counter-pole to the east, we need a motorway from Cork to Galway,” said Mr Martin.
“In my view, the Cork to Limerick part of that is urgent. Taoiseach Varadkar was Minister for Transport at the time when he stopped the project, basically mothballed it. Now they are talking about starting it again, and we think it’s an absolute imperative.
“It [the new motorway] has to be in the capital review.
“The aim of a Cork to Galway motorway is that it would give you a critical mass between Cork and Limerick population-wise of close to one million.
“And then you move that into Galway and you are talking about a real critical mass of people, third-level education, connectivity, that could rival the eastern region.
“In terms of the spatial planning of the country, that is the most important thing we could do over the next five years.”
Last week, Mr Varadkar strongly suggested that the long called-for Cork to Limerick motorway could finally be given the green light, saying he “hoped” the project would be included in the Government’s mid-term capital plan review in September.
Speaking at an event at the Foynes flying boat museum in Limerick alongside the new major of Limerick city and county, Stephen Keary, Mr Varadkar said that such a motorway would help rejuvenate north Cork towns such as Charleville and Buttevant, in addition to other areas.
However, in a clear note of caution, Mr Varadkar said no decision has been made and that the project could take a number of years to develop.
Last month, a joint report commissioned by the Cork and Limerick chambers of commerce estimated the economic impact of the motorway at €128m to the exchequer and 5,400 jobs to Munster.
The report said that the Blarney to Mallow road in Co Cork is more than 3,500 vehicles over capacity per day and that upgrading the N20 to a motorway could reduce travel time from Blarney to Patrickswell in Co Limerick by almost 17 minutes.
It is estimated that the motorway could cost as much as €900m but a public-private approach to delivering the route with tolls at various points could be an option to help with costs.